The museums at Fishing Bridge, Madison Junction, and Norris Geyser Basin were designated National Historic Landmarks in 1987 because their exaggerated features and organic forms exemplify rustic design in the national parks and served as models for hundreds of park buildings constructed during work relief programs of the 1930s. As envisioned by the chairman of the American Association of Museums, Hermon Bumpus, they also established the idea of “trailside museums’’ where visitors could learn about an area within a park. Bumpus regarded national parks as “roofless museums of nature” with unlabeled exhibits and the trailside museum as the place to provide the labels.
Designed by Herbert Maier in a style that became known as “Parkitecture,” the museums have the battered rubble masonry and clipped gables of a traditional bungalow style, but use locally available materials left in their natural condition to reflect the scale and roughness of the landscape. The asymmetrical boulders and gnarled logs display the irregularities of nature. Maier, who also designed museums for Grand Canyon and Yosemite, regarded buildings in national parks as “necessary evils” because even the best was “somewhat of an intruder.” Their National Register nomination described the trailside museums as “a perfect solution for an architecture appropriate to the outdoors: informal through the use of natural materials and horizontal lines,” but with “a strength of design and heavy-handed expressions” that “suggested the smallness of man in relation to nature.”